Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Day 1

On Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008, at approximately 10 AM I woke up on an uncovered mattress on the floor of my loft, sweating and wearing only a pair of boxer-briefs and a few thousand mosquito bites. I fucking hate mosquitoes. I hate them more than I hate... pop country music. That's how much I hate them. I am a very light sleeper and being bitten by one is usually enough to wake me up, so the fact that I was covered in bites is an indicator of how well I slept. If our loft wasn't 90 degrees at night, I might have been able to protect myself with a cover of some kind, but then I would have been too hot to sleep at all anyway; you can see the predicament I was in. Of course, the last week or so has forced me to redefine my concept of discomfort.

The original plan was to get up before sunrise, ride to the southernmost point of Manhattan, and take a moment to contemplate the Upper Bay (which was the closest we could come to the Atlantic ocean without riding an hour in the wrong direction) as the sun came up. Instead, we left the house around noon after some hasty repacking and decided to skip the ceremonial crap and just start heading west.

We made it over the Williamsburg bridge and felt pretty good about our level of fitness (of course the Appalachian and Allegheny mountains proved to present some slightly more challenging climbs than the bridge). We stopped on sixth ave in the Village so Sean, having recently lost his fancy cycling glasses, could pick up a pair of knockoff designer sunglasses with white frames and ironically large lenses. Oh how I'll miss you, NYC. In a touching valedictory moment a not-so-unusually rude motorist in an SUV honked at me for several seconds while I was heading west on 14th, riding on the right side of the road, leaving, of course, ample space for passing. I yelled something to the effect of, "what the fuck are you honking at?", to which he replied, "you, asshole," or something similarly tender. Thankfully, we made it out of Manhattan without any incidents of fisticuffs or u-lock justice, and were not honked at again until we reached the outskirts of Cleveland 7 days later.

Our first serious challenge was finding the George Washington Bridge. The west side bike path ends around 120th, which is further north than I've ever taken it. We walked our bikes up a very long set of steps and then took Riverside Dr the rest of the way to 181st and then looped back around to 178th and Fort Washington, finally finding the stairs to the bike path tucked away on the side of a highway exit ramp.

Confusion becoming something of a theme of our tripe already, we found ourselves in Jersey with no idea how to navigate the clusterfuck of interstates and state routes spilling out of the bridge exit like the frayed edges of my extremely short cutoff jean shorts. The guy at the hotel desk nearby insisted that 46, the route we were planning to take, was an interstate with no shoulder and therefore not bikeable. I'll spare you the boring details, mostly because I've forgotten them, but trust that we eventually did make it to route 46 west and finally began to put some distance between ourselves and familiar territory.

After about 25 miles we stopped for the first in a long succession of gas-station breaks to refill our water bottles and cram as many carbs down our gullets as possible, mostly in the form of potato chips, the new, apparently vegan flavor of doritos, and nature valley granola bars. My diet has experienced better days.

While we were sitting outside of the BP on the curb, filling ourselves with heavily processed and almost nutritionally worthless foods, a strange man piloting a slow-moving motorized scooter (the wheelchair kind, not one of those hip, European thingies you see around New York these days) pulled up, executed a tight 3-point turn, and backed carefully into the handicapped parking spot. He was wearing sweatpants, a tank top, and a baseball cap, and did not appear to be severely injured or obese enough to necessitate the scooter, although some kind of chronic pain or joint injury may very well have justified it; he did seem to walk with a slight limp, after all. He came out of the store a few minutes later with naught but a pack of Newports and a Strawberry Yoohoo, fired up his whip, and scooted away at a brisk 5 or so miles per hour, whirring for all the world like an upset but slightly drowsy bumble bee. As he vanished into the distant sunset, he uncorked the strawberry milk and pounded the entire thing in a bottoms-up maneuver that would have made John Belushi proud. Sean and I were in stitches, and the thought of that image still makes me chuckle. I suppose you really had to be there.

Yikes, I'm even more long-winded than I thought. I've been writing for close to an hour now and I'm not even halfway done with the first day. I've been thinking all along that I might like to some day write a more substantial account of this entire trip, but since this blog exists mostly for the purpose of keeping my mom and grandmother updated, I'll try to keep things short from now on. Basically, we rode, rode, and rode some more. I got tired, but we kept riding. We rode up hills, and then rode down the other sides. As it turns out, riding close to a hundred miles per day can get pretty monotonous. The highlights of the first day of riding included me getting two flat tires within 15 minutes, the second of which left my brand new rear tire with an inch-long slash in it (which I patched with a folded up dollar bill), eating lots more junk food, listening to several chapters of a lecture series released by The Teaching Company which featured philosopher John Searle talking about the mind, and finally settling down for the night in a patch of woods next to the Milford Learning Center in Milford, PA. We did 96.4 miles at an average speed of 14mph, which is not bad for day 1. Then we ate pop tarts and peanut butter for dinner and fell asleep around 11.

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